Portland, Part 4: "The Sauna"
“Nobody is equal to anybody. Even the same man is not equal to himself on different days."- Thomas Sowell On a macro level, I know that people are all the same, we all want the same things. We want to live in peace, to raise our children well, to be happy without hurting anyone, to eat good food, to listen to music with our family and friends and enjoy life! Beside all the problems and conflicts in the world, what I don't always understand is why people seem to act so differently in everyday life everywhere I go.
We are all are product of our environment. Every place, building, situation, surrounding.... they all influence our behavior and attitudes. It's why architects are so important, why "ambiance" is mentioned ad nauseam on Yelp reviews, it's why we like candles and flowers and essential oils and rearrange our furniture, why we agonize over house and car purchases. Do clothes make the man? YOU BET
I keep trying to compare Phoenix to Portland, find the differences, similarities. I know what it's like to visit, but LIVING here is another thing. The problem is, these places are completely the opposite of each other. Homes are different, traffic, the streets, the weather...its all so contrasting! Since I have been here, I have been thinking about this, and I feel the need for a baseline, a primer, to tie this all together....and I think finally found this common denominator the other day: The Sauna at my gym. It's the only place that's the same everywhere I go. I was never the type of person to go sit in the sauna, I actually dislike being warm. I never liked going to the gym either. But after I had some health problems last year, my doctor told me to go sit in a sauna for 15 min a day, 3-4 times a week "without your phone". After some trepidation, I actually got excited about it. I envisioned being like Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, sitting in a room with a bunch of like-minded guys, making lifelong friends, going to each other's BBQ's and weddings and funerals.
Sadly, this has not really been the case, and the only way to explain this fully is to tell you what I have seen. In the last 3 months I have gone from my former home in east Mesa, to Scottsdale and then to Portland, Oregon. What follows are the general descriptions of the people I have found there: East Mesa: It's filled with a mostly older crowd, 40 and up. It's a very conservative area, filled mostly with religious and older people. In the sauna, the conversations are interesting: conspiracy theories are openly discussed, bible interpretation arguments break out regularly, people are generally talkative, its very entertaining. The furtive and coy glances at my anatomy by the outwardly religious doesn't freak me out, but it does piss me off, for obvious reasons. There are quite a few men who seem to enjoy being naked and take way too long to get dressed in the changing room, like WAAAYY too long. Guys, if you want to show off your Salami to other dudes, LA Fitness is not the place...go online, or somewhere else. When music is being played loudly on their phones and headphones, it's really annoying. But far and away, the worst part is the stretching. People stretch in the sauna like it's the actual gym. I sit in the sauna minding my own business, and people are stretching with their butt crack 18 inches from my face. They stretch, do jumping jacks, clothed, naked or in their whitey tighties...its just all too much. Scottsdale: It's absolutely a younger crowd and even when a guy is older, he tries his best to be younger. I'm so not used to this, and the sauna is filled with Gym Bro's and Douchebags. I can't tell you how many times I've been told that:"in 5 years I'm going to retire because I ----------------" Everyone brags about how much money they make, what they do for work, who they know, how much they can lift. The old guys have barbed wire tattoos and the younger guys almost always have Chinese lettering somewhere on their body. The words "swole" "Lambo"(short for Lamborghini) and "broski" are very commonplace here. I'm not saying that South Scottsdale is filled with these people, I'm sure there are many different types here...they just must visit the sauna on the days that I don't go. Portland: EVERYONE IS NAKED. Seriously, everyone is naked. Like, Everyone. I always go in with my shorts and sneakers on, and I feel very out of place. I don't feel out of place because of the nudity, usually if anyone is going to get naked in any other situation, it's going to be me. But here, it's like the roles are reversed, I'm the conservative one. There are lots of pierced body parts here. People here are very polite, and the room is very dark. Everyone seems at ease, regardless of their body type. It's also very quiet, people rarely talk. I am a pretty talkative person, and I try to start up conversations with people....some people engage, but most people give me the look like: "dude you aren't supposed to talk in here" I thought it was weird until I googled "sauna etiquette" and apparently, that's an actual thing. Who knew? Probably everyone here but me.....
I'm not sure about this, but I think Portland's "culture" influences sauna behavior more than Phoenix "culture" does. Phoenix is a very new city, a city of American Immigrants, Immigrants and Transplants, and we haven't quite coalesced into groupthink just yet. Contrast that with PDX, where people and families have been here for far longer. There hasn't been a massive influx of people to upset or offset the dominant culture. In many ways I prefer the subtlety here, but I do get a little bored. Every once in a while I wish someone would bring up the "fake moon landing" or quote a bible verse to me......just as long as they aren't stretching.